HARTFORD, Conn – A man imprisoned more than 18 years for kidnapping and raping a woman was released Tuesday after new forensic tests showed evidence from the crime did not match his DNA.
James Calvin Tillman, 44, told his family he wanted to take a quiet walk for the first time since 1988, when he was imprisoned after his arrest. He was sentenced a year later to 45 years in prison.
"I thank the Lord," he said as he left Hartford Superior Court. "I was innocent all along, so I just kept my faith and let science be science."
Judge Thomas P. Miano granted Tillman's request for a new trial and released him.
Hartford State's Attorney James E. Thomas said his office will likely drop the charges.
Tillman was 26, living in a homeless shelter and working at a car wash when he was charged with abducting a woman as she got into her car near a Hartford restaurant, then beating and raping her at a housing project.
He maintained his innocence and rejected a plea bargain that would have given him eight years in prison.
The victim picked out Tillman from photos, and he was convicted. Forensic tests at the time showed some similarities between Tillman's DNA and that of the attacker.
But more sophisticated DNA tests conducted earlier this year at the request of the Connecticut Innocence Project categorically ruled out Tillman, said attorney Brian Carlow.
No information was released Tuesday about the victim, including whether she still lives in the area or how she reacted to the development.
Tillman's younger brother died of a heart condition a few years after Tillman was jailed.
In clothes borrowed from his cousin and his prison-issued sneakers, Tillman finally had a chance Tuesday to embrace his mother, who sobbed and cried out her thanks to Jesus in the court's echoing hallway.
"He didn't give up hope, and he wouldn't plead guilty on something he didn't do," Catherine Martin said. "He knows God's word, yes, he does. He said that's the only thing that got him through the days."